GOP Senate candidates in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida are trying to organize and bring to the polls voters who will back them -- but not necessarily Trump, as the New York Times recently reported. In Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio's path to victory lies with Cuban voters in the Miami area. So the campaign is spending time and money to get those voters out -- even though polls suggest that many are more likely to vote for Democratic nominee Clinton than for the Republican at the top of the ticket.
And in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Times noted that Sens. Pat Toomey and Rob Portman are pushing a get-out-the-vote effort aimed at suburban women and college-educated moderate Republicans, even though those groups, as a bloc, are no fans of Trump.
It appears to be a save-yourself kind of situation. Trump is tied or trailing Clinton in two of those three states, so these Republicans need more support than Trump can give them to win their races. And evidence suggests they have it: Senate Republicans are outperforming Trump in their home states by an average of 3 to 4 points. Now they just need to get those supporters to the polls.
In a way, Trump has made it easy for them. Their efforts are also necessitated by a weaker field effort from Trump's campaign, which has largely outsourced that operation to the Republican National Committee. That means, despite plenty of enthusiasm (as the The Fix's Philip Bump saw when he visited a Trump calling center in Scranton, Pa., over the weekend) it's at both a manpower and an organizing disadvantage compared with the well-oiled Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee.
Splitting with Trump on the ground game fits a larger pattern of how down-ballot Republicans have handled his candidacy this fall. With a few notable exceptions, they haven't wholesale ditched him, as seemed imminent in August when Trump was feuding with a Gold Star family, or last month, when the "Access Hollywood" tape was released.
These Republicans are just...kinda, sorta distancing themselves from Trump in a way that makes sense for their campaigns first, his campaign second. It's the slow-fade break-up -- no dramatic scene, but just as broken.
And, not to brag or anything, but this break-up playing out almost exactly the way we at The Fix predicted it would when we talked about possible break-ups in August. Here's what I wrote about the "it's complicated" break-up route, and how it differs from a full-on split:
The Republican Party could still support Trump by setting up teams to campaign for him in some states. Trump and the RNC would still keep sharing money through a joint fundraising committee, and the RNC would still do much of the heavy lifting for Trump's campaign.But in other states, they'd quietly focus most of their time and energy on turning out supporters for the congressional races. Fliers would be mailed to independents in Ohio that praise Sen. Rob Portman, but don't mention Trump. The script that GOP phone bank volunteers read in Pennsylvania would talk about how important it is to keep the Senate in Republican hands instead of why Trump would make a great president.
Here's how that prediction has manifested:
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he'd no longer be defending Trump, but he did say he voted for him. Vulnerable Senate candidate Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) said he won't be voting for Trump but that his position on the presidential race "hasn't changed."
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the Senate's No. 3, said he wants Trump to step down but will still likely vote for him. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) of the high-profile Oversight and Government Reform Committee said something similar last week. In Pennsylvania, Toomey has refused -- in ways painful to watch -- to say whether he'll vote for Trump.
Republicans who distance themselves from their party's nominee can't afford to edge too far away -- because many of their own voters haven't ditched Trump. A wave of daily Washington Post-ABC News tracking polls finds that Republican voters are coming home to Trump, keeping the race within 3 to 5 points. (Unlike some of the politicians who represent them, most Trump supporters never really left Trump after the 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape.)
Here's what can happen to a Republican candidate who drifts too far from Trump: A recent Washington Post-ABC News daily tracking poll found 66 percent of GOP-leaning voters disapprove of Ryan's decision not to campaign for Trump. And 75 percent of those voters who identify themselves as "very conservative" really don't like Ryan's decision.
Which means if Republicans want to ditch Trump, they have to do it as quietly as possible. And that's exactly what many seem to have done.
Correction: This post originally mischaracterized Sen. Jon McCain's (R-Ariz.) position on Trump. McCain said on Oct. 8 he cannot support Trump for president. The reference to McCain has been taken out of this story as a result.